LAHORE - PIA, an ailing public sector organistaion which has been feeding on the national exchequer for too long, is looking for a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who need not have any commercial aviation experience.

An advertisement published in media shows masters degree and War Course, and experience in shipping, naval, aviation or military operations as the required qualifications.

It looks like the ad has been framed with some specific person, or at least certain group, in mind.

Commercial aviation is a highly regulated specialised field subject to regulatory control of not only the aviation authority (CAA in our case) of the home country but also of every state where the aircraft lands or overflies.

Commanding an airline, like any other commercial organisation, has got nothing to do with defence related operations. Even the army aviation or the air force management and operations are way different from commercial aviation.

The advertisement, which has become viral on social media, has therefore raised eyebrows in the aviation circles.

“There is hardly any commercial airline or national civil aviation regulatory body of repute in world which is run by serving or retired military aviation professionals because of vast difference in their sphere of operations,” said an aviation expert while seeking anonymity.

To make his point clear, he explained that “ICAO [the UN specialised agency which provides guidelines on almost everything regarding airlines operations] requires CAA to ensure that aircrafts registered by them have insurance coverage for aircraft, passengers and cargo carried by them in case of any eventuality.

“However, insurance of civil commercial transport aircraft restrict their operation only for commercial transportation and not for military operations, nor operation into declared war zones”.

Shedding more light on difference between military and civil aviation operations, he said, “ICAO also determines minimum vertical and horizontal separation of aircraft operating in specified air corridors to meet safety standards as specified by national aviation authority where aircraft lands or overflies.”

When contacted, PIA spokesman furnished a highly unsatisfactory reply. Beating about the bush, he said that the advertisement was given in a broad prospective and the airline has invited peoples from all walks of life to apply for the post.

“War courses and military operations experience are not the only qualifications required to apply for the post rather these are part of qualifications,” he added, dodging the question that why these qualifications were included in the first place.

The PIA has been on a ventilator for many years, primarily because of stuffing it with appointment of blue-eyed people over the years by different governments – both civil and military.

Billions of rupees have already been pumped into the national flag carrier over time and it has mercilessly been used to serve vested interests at the cost of general public.

With an operation fleet reduced from over 42 aircrafts to an average operational fleet of fewer than 22 aircrafts and shrinking schedules, and surplus employees of every cadre, most of them under qualified and mediocre capability, the once prestigious airline of Asia has been reduced to heap of mismanagement and disability.

With total accumulated losses of over Rs440 billion and liabilities far exceeding its total assets, technically the PIA is already insolvent. Trimming down its top heavy management is a must for a turnaround.

Primarily under the pressure from the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the present management has made some efforts to put the house in order.

It has screened and sacked employees who had submitted fake qualifications and testimonials at time of initial recruitment, which under PIA Administration Rules has a penalty of dismissal with no benefits.

However, there are still scores of parasites whose degrees are genuine but those have no relation to the work they are required to do. Many of them also have no relevant experience.

Some of those who were either dismissed or whose licenses have been suspended by the CAA over the degrees issue were recruited during the tenure of late General Ziaul Haq – such as the son of a former Lt-Gen, Jehanzeb Arbab, whom Hamoodur Rehman Report recommended for dismissal and court martial, or the nephew of former Defence Secretary Ijlal Haider Zaidi.

Almost all the rest of the screened out people were recruited during the PPP governments.

Past in Perspective

PIA rose to its zenith from debris of disaster after 1971 debacle when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto requested Rafique Saigol to take over and steer it out of the crisis. Saigol restored the airline and handed it over to Air Marshal Nur Khan.

It goes to the credit of Bhutto that he gave both Saigol and Nur Khan complete authority to the job and refrained from any political interference.

Saigol and Nur both choose best team of commercial aviation professionals and recruited best qualified people strictly on merit.

Nur Khan did not bring anybody from his parent organisation or from bureaucracy, with one exception – a bureaucrat from police service whom he appointed as Director Administration.

While Nur Khan raised morale of employees and was instrumental in aiding employees to form professional representative bodies, he strictly enforced administrative and financial discipline.

In contrast, all other PIA heads that came from the PAF brought their teams from the air force and failed to deliver at par with Nur Khan.

CAA: part of problem

The CAA too is a big part of the problem as it has failed to perform its regulatory function and is primarily responsible for poor performance of airlines operating under its jurisdiction. It is also giving undue preference to airlines based in Gulf granting traffic rights, especially for carrying passengers from Pakistan to their bases in Gulf for onward flights to Europe and across the Atlantic.

Today there is a surplus capacity of passenger revenue seats available in comparison to actual annual demand which is almost 13.5 million passenger seats, resulting in gross irregularities by Gulf based airlines that are heavily subsidized by oil revenues to the disadvantage of local aviation industry.